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Ulster shock Toulouse care of a Robert Baloucoune's hat-trick

By PA
Robert Baloucoune of Ulster breaks clear to score his second try of three during the Heineken Champions Cup match between Stade Toulousain and Ulster Rugby at Stadium de Toulouse on April 09, 2022 in Toulouse, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

A Robert Baloucoune hat-trick ensured Ulster return to Ravenhill for the second leg of their round-of-16 tie against Toulouse with a 26-20 advantage after the defending champions were reduced to 14 players for 70 minutes.

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But the URC side were forced to deal with an unlikely late onslaught after Romain Ntamack’s 78th-minute score dragged Toulouse right back into a tie they looked to be out of.

With the majority of a 31,000-strong crowd on his back, referee Wayne Barnes – who was escorted off the pitch at the end of the match – had no choice but to send off Juan Cruz Mallia after he had taken out Ulster winger Ben Moxham in the air after 10 minutes of a match played at a punishing pace.

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Baloucoune’s triple – two of them coming early in each half and his third 13 minutes from time via an interception deep inside his own 22 – were complemented by a short-range blast over from replacement Andy Warwick just before the hour.

But Ntamack’s comeback score, following a frantic period of late pressure, meant the defending champions remain within touching distance heading into next Saturday’s second leg.

Out-of-touch Toulouse headed into the match on the back of three wins from their past 11 outings, but with seven of France’s Grand Slam-winning internationals in their ranks.

And Emmanuel Meafou’s seventh-minute try proved they were not about to give up their title easily.

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Even after Mallia was sent off, they refused to shut up shop and repeatedly stretched the Ulster defence to breaking point without being able to find the killer touch.

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Ulster were on level terms six minutes after Meafou’s opener, Baloucoune jogging in after forwards Nick Timoney, Marty Moore and Duane Vermeulen had punched repeated holes in the hosts’ defensive line.

But two Thomas Ramos penalties – the second on the stroke of half-time – gave the Top 14 side a 13-7 lead at the break.

Neither side was willing to let up the frantic pace in the second half.

Five minutes in, after some fine work from the pack, the ball was spun wide – where Baloucoune was lurking in far too much space. John Cooney missed the conversion, which kept Toulouse in the lead by a point.

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Toulouse thought they had increased their advantage in spectacular style minutes later as Matthis Lebel dotted down after Ntamack’s break almost the length of the pitch away. But they were called back for a knock-on and just the second scrum of the match. The first had come in the 39th minute.

Warwick’s touchdown, converted by Cooney, took Ulster into the lead for the first time.

And Baloucoune’s third – which the increasingly vocal and angry crowd were convinced was offside – was enough to settle the matter, despite Ntamack’s late score and Ramos’ break deep into Ulster territory from the following kick-off.

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Shaylen 1 hours ago
Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink

If France, Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland got together and all changed their eligibility laws in the same way SA has it would be absolutely bonkers. All players from all nations involved in Europe would be fair game as would their coaches. The investment in rugby would be supercharged as teams would rush to create dream teams. Transfer markets would be super charged, salary caps may change, private investment would grow as rich backers first buy clubs and then put money into their clubs in an effort to land the best players. The richest clubs and franchises would benefit most but money and players would move across borders at a steady flow. Suddenly countries like Wales and Scotland would have a much larger pool of players to select from who would be developed and improved in systems belonging to their rivals within superstar squads while their clubs receive large sums in the transfer market. The Six Nations would experience a big boost as the best players become available all the time. The Champions cup would become even more fiercely contested as the dream teams clash. Fan engagement would grow as fans would follow their favourite players creating interest in the game across the continent. Transfer markets and windows would become interesting events in themselves, speculation would drive it and rumours of big transfers and interest in players would spread. All of this is speculation and much of it would not eventuate straight away but just like in football the spread of players and talent would create these conditions over time. The transfer markets in European football is proof of this. Football had the same club vs country debate eons ago and favoured an open system. This has made it the largest game in the world with global interest and big money. Rugby needs to embrace this approach in the long run as well

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Jon 7 hours ago
Waratahs 'counter-culture' limits Wallaby options for Joe Schmidt

This is a bit dramatic for me, I think the Rebels and Force cultures would be very strong, and if a player is chosen from either, you can be confident they are in a good head space and ready. Whether they quite have the technical or tactical foundations of the other two states is where one would way their risk of selection. I see no need for Schmidt to worry about that risk in this squad. The main reason I could see a predominance of players from Brumbies and Reds, is simple cohesion. What might the coaching group make of what’s lacking in the Tahs, and to a lesser extent Rebels and Force’s, franchise? Certainly sides (players) that are running irish plays like we saw from that lovely McDermott long ball with have a head start. I hope the players can continue it at International level. Really liked what I saw of Wright (don’t know player focus and just hadn’t seen a lot of him anyway) in that game, can see him being a glue in a Wallaby side too. A with the similar worry of selecting players like Ryan, I think it unfounded to worry so much about forward balance at the moment. Including both Wright and Skelton in the same lineout is not going to lose you games gainst Wales. Nor will any unknown weakenss Wales might find in Ryan be exploited to any great extent. It is the perfect time to introduce such a young player. What other shortcuts might Schmidt want to make now, just a year out from hosting BIL? When Gamble came on the scene I thought he had a Pocock ability to break game apart along with performing the role of a openside well. I would be very keen to drop Leota/Hooper for Gamble, and in your squad make up, include Uru as a lock. Did you forget to remove Vunivalu from your team? Would you have Meafou in your squad if you could?

114 Go to comments
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